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Omid Djalili's Iranalamadingdong tour 2014 comedy tour will stop at Chatham, Tunbridge Wells, Dartford and Margate in November 2014

If you go to see actor and popular stand-up Omid Djalili on the Kent stops of his current comedy tour, don’t be afraid to ask him for a great big hug.

Omid Djalili
Omid Djalili

There’s a chapter in Omid Djalili’s new autobiography Hopeful where, as a wide-eyed schoolboy, he meets Mel Smith backstage at his school play and asks, ‘Can I hug you?’

“It felt so comforting, to be held by a ‘daddy bear’ type like him,” he says, admitting that, even then, he knew he too had daddy bear potential.

In person, Omid Djalili is not only cuddly, he’s also extremely down-to-earth, full of wisdom and very funny, which his Kent fans will benefit from on the three stops he's still to make in the county over the coming months. A show in Canterbury took place in September, but he returns to Chatham, Tunbridge Wells, Dartford and Margate in November.

Much of the Iranian comic’s current show, called Iranalamadingdong, focuses on his own life experiences and the theme of getting older.

This colourful life started out in a large flat in Kensington, where his parents ran “a sort of guest house” for fellow Iranians who were seeking medical care in the UK. Omid spent much of his time sleeping on the sofa to make way for paying guests and, left to his own devices, developed a keen sense of imagination.

He retook his A-levels four times and eventually managed to blag his way into the University of Ulster in Coleraine. While there, he decided to go for broke and, during reading week, flew to the US to get himself a place at Princeton.

“I’d seen films like The Graduate, and this whole thing of Ivy League universities was very much in my head, so I thought I could blag my way in,” says the 48-year-old father-of-three.

Omid Djalili with wife Annabel
Omid Djalili with wife Annabel

Impressively, after stealing a door pass, he managed to attend a lecture and have an interview with the vice chancellor.

“I was trying to get a scholarship, and said I was a remarkable footballer. He took one look at me and said I wasn’t really his 1986 cohort.”

You might call this the delusion of youth. I call it having extraordinary self-belief.

“I’ve always felt that I wasn’t stupid, but I don’t know where this hopeful attitude came from. I was lucky something went right along the way.”

Something has definitely gone right, but it seems Omid has got where he is today – one of the country’s most beloved stand-ups, who’s had roles in films including The Mummy, Sex And The City 2 and Gladiator against all odds.

He nearly drowned in a cesspit as a child, an incident he describes in Hopeful as hilarious, but which could have been a disaster. And he was shot at while at uni in Northern Ireland. Having earned a 2:1 in humanities, he auditioned unsuccessfully for 16 drama schools, and drove limos in London for a decade to make ends meet.

Omid managed to land himself work as a jobbing actor and fell in love. His tenacity came into its own when he spent years courting his now wife Annabel, even moving to Czechoslovakia at one point to “demonstrate detachment, dynamism and a pioneering spirit”.

“She said to me, ‘I had to marry you because you just wouldn’t say no’.”

Omid breaks off into peels of belly laughs again, which will no doubt be ringing out at theatres as he embarks on his eight-month-long, 98-date tour.

Gladiator star Russell Crowe may have misunderstood Omid's friendly advances
Gladiator star Russell Crowe may have misunderstood Omid's friendly advances

Japes and mishaps

As well as the comedy tour, Omid is also making his film directorial debut with a drama about gang warfare among Asians in the Midlands, which is “epic and very British”.

“I’ve always wanted to make serious films. Comedy’s important, it’s very good to laugh. But when I look back at all my favourite films, they’re all drama. I remember thinking I love Gladiator... I can’t believe I’m in it.”

On the set of the Oscar-winning film the late Oliver Reed, who died during filming, played a practical joke on Omid. When they had a scene together, rather than punch Omid’s slave trader, Reed grabbed his unmentionables and held on for three takes.

“If people play tricks on you, they like you,” says Omid.

On the same set, the producers decided that, as Omid was game for a laugh, he could be a useful ‘bridge’ to help lead actor Russell Crowe come out of his shell and relieve tension on set. But it backfired when Crowe misinterpreted Omid’s friendly advances.

“He thought the producers assumed he was gay and had sent me as a gay guy to befriend him. It was the way I said, ‘We’ll take off our shirts, play a bit of pool...’ I think he said: ‘Even if I was gay, why would I want to be with a fat ‘bloke’ like you?’”

Omid Djalili’s tour, Iranalamadingdong, visits Chatham’s Central Theatre on Saturday, November 15, the Assembly Hall Theatre at Tunbridge Wells on Friday, November 21, Dartford’s Orchard Theatre on Saturday, November 22 and Margate Winter Gardens on Friday, November 28. Visit www.omidnoagenda.com

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